March 2018 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Paul Marchese: 56
Jennifer Lee Kirch: 38
Occupation: Makers of custom speed skates at Marchese Racing
Primary Sports: Long and short track speed skating, inline skating, cycling
Paul Marchese and Jennifer Lee Kirch
By Skip Holmes
The 2018 Olympics have recently ended and many of you watched your favorite sports on television or your computer screen. So did you see the figure skating, the various alpine events, the Saranac Laker who took silver in the luge, or the American women’s hockey team victory? Perhaps you watched the Nordic skiing like I did and saw the great effort and win from the American women in the team relay. Or did you watch the short and long track speed skating events, which are considered by some to be an obscure sport.
For two local residents speed skating is clearly not an obscure sport. Paul Marchese and Jennifer Lee Kirch are both speed skaters who have advanced as far as the Olympic speed skating trials in their respective athletic careers. They also make many of the skates that you see speed skaters wearing. On March 23-25 you can see short track speed skaters who will be using Marchese skates at the US Short Track Nationals at the Saratoga Springs Ice Rink.
Paul grew up in New York City and his father was a speed skater and an artist. When he was 15, he saw his first short track race and was hooked. His father gave him a pair of leather speed skates to use and Paul started short track racing. He then began experimenting with making his own speed skates while still in high school. In addition, he started cycling and quickly entered cycling races as well. After high school, Paul entered Syracuse University to study architecture.
While in Syracuse he continued his speed skate training and racing. In his third year he took a leave of absence to commit full time to short track racing. He gave himself a semester to decide if short track racing was what he wanted more than a career in architecture. He quickly made the US Nationals team and competed all over the US and internationally as well. In 1988 he raced in the first Olympic short track finals and finished seventh. During the next several years he and a teammate worked odd jobs to support themselves while continuing to train and race. In 1990 he won the US Nationals. He also entered additional Olympic trials short track races in 1992 and 1994. Unfortunately, he did not make the Olympic team, but having been ranked high enough to compete in the Olympic trials was a major accomplishment.
Paul continued racing in the National and International Masters Championships thru 2004 and accumulated over 15 National championships and was World Champion in 2001. After the efforts to qualify for the Olympic team, Paul started coaching for both the Albany Speed Skating Club and the Saratoga Winter Club. He has also coached internationally and has been seen rink side at a number of previous Olympic Games. He was also a speed skating coach for the US team in 2002 and 2006, and a coach for China’s team in 2010 and 2014.
Paul’s venture into the making of speed skates started around 1988 for a number of US clients. The skates used at the time were leather with the runners riveted to the bottom of the shoe. Paul decided that he could improve the design. His architect design training was helpful and he made a new shoe from fiberglass that had a detachable runner that provided a better fit and allowed a skater to have more control and speed. Even his teammates decided that they wanted a pair of skates like he was using. That became the beginning of a very successful business for him, working out of his basement at home in Coxsackie. At last count there were over 130 Olympic speed skating medalists who have won on Marchese skates! Over 1,000 World medals have been won on Marchese skates as well.
His cohort in the skate business and in life, Jennifer Lee Kirch, also has an illustrious speed skating career. She grew up on Long Island and was involved with inline skating starting at the age of 13. By the time she was 15 she had switched to speed skating on the ice as a short track competitor. She no longer envisioned inline skating as providing a path to serious athletic competition. By the time she was 20, she was in the top 20 in the American Cup short track races. Given her accomplishments, she was invited to attend the Olympic short track training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid.
In her first season, Jen advanced to the top 10 in the country. She qualified for the short track competition at the World Cup during the 1998-99 season. By then she was ninth overall at the US Nationals with a promising future. In January 1999, Jen qualified for the University Games in Czechoslovakia. Several days prior to leaving on the overseas flight, Jen crashed at a race and severed a tendon in her leg. After receiving a significant number of stitches she had to cancel her trip. This particular trip was really important to her since her grandfather was from Czechoslovakia and she wanted to compete in his homeland. Her recovery program involved many hours on a bike trainer.
After her recovery from the injury, the short track speed skating program was shut down in Lake Placid, and Jen moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. During her time in Colorado, she started riding a bike with others in the community as a way to get outside more frequently. She then participated in the short track Olympic Trials in Marquette, Mich. and placed 12th overall, which did not allow her to participate in the Olympics that season.
At that point in her life she made a decision to withdraw from Olympic competition and started coaching others in speed skating. In 1996 she met Paul while coaching and decided that she would get a pair of his speed skating boots. In 2011 Jen started to help Paul make skate boots in his shop and began to race in the long track venues of 1,000 meters and longer distances. In January 2018, Jen went to Salt Lake City as a long track speed skater, and raced in the Olympic trials. She thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate even though she did not make the team.
After her trip to Salt Lake, Jen and Paul went to Italy this past January where Jen competed in the 27th annual Masters International Allround Games, and she took first place in the 500, 1000, 1500 and 3000 meter events. A remarkable series of successes for such a talented speed skater!
So now you have a picture of two very accomplished speed skaters. Well, have you ever ridden a bike with them? I can tell you that when the two of them are riding their custom carbon fiber tandem there are very few cyclists who can stay with them. I know as I have tried. Even with their competitive spirit, they are the nicest people you could ever meet on a tandem. Even when riding up a long hill it is always more smiles per mile for them! They will ride their tandem from Coxsackie to the start of a ride in Delmar, which is a 15-mile hilly warm up, then ride 40 or so miles with a group, and then ride back home. The only complaint I ever heard from them was that they were hungry, no surprise there!
If you are out riding in Albany or Greene counties this cycling season, and encounter a smiling couple on a tandem bike say hello, and forget about trying to pass them. Just jump on their wheel and enjoy the ride!
Skip Holmes (email@example.com) of Delmar teaches Sustainable Design at RPI. He is a member of Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club and Capital Bicycle Racing Club. He can be found road and mountain biking, kayaking, hiking or Nordic skiing.